Surrogacy from the perspective of feminisms


Do you know Friends? It was one of the most popular American sitcoms in the late 90-ties. One of the main characters there was Phoebe Buffay. Till this Tuesday, the only image for the topic of surrogacy that I could think of.

When I was applying for the Feminist Futures Hackathon, I could list 2 preferences of the most wanted tracks I would like to participate in. I applied for “Inclusive Futures” and “Well-being futures” tracks, as I had a feeling my expertise and interests fit the best there. 

I was thrilled when I realised that I will work on the topic of Reproductive Justice in cooperation with Naisasialiitto Unioni, the oldest feminist organisation in Finland. Still, reproductive justice is a rather broader topic: population policies, infertility treatment, contraception and birth control, miscarriages, abortions, sexual violence and much much more. 

But the topic of our project was narrowed to something completely out of my scope of knowledge. Surrogacy. Believe me, I have never actually thought about this topic in my whole life. The team of my coworkers either. But this is the Hackathon, right? We are supposed to deliver some project’s outcomes. So we started to look for the resources, read and learn a lot. 

Not surprisingly, surrogacy is also a huge topic itself. There is no easy conclusion to be made about it. Lots of different perspectives must be taken into consideration, but I am a pragmatic person. Surrogacy is there and we should somehow deal with it. Honestly, I don’t think prohibition helps.

Our team is wonderful, curious and full of ideas. The more we are discovering the topic, the more different angles and interests we want to include. Let’s see how it works. 

But today I will solely focus on the feminists’ perspectives on commercial surrogacy when a surrogate mother is being paid for growing a baby in her womb and giving birth to this child. I had very limited time to familiarize myself with the topic. That’s why this is an imperfect blog and you should be aware of it and reach out to more literature if needed.  

The problem with focusing on feminists theories only is tricky. Theorisation is concentrated on the issue of female bodies and this is a very limited source of information, when it comes to surrogacy. 

Anyway, what are the main arguments of different schools of feminisms on surrogacy?

Liberal feminists observe the topic from the perspective of individualism and freedom of choice. They see the surrogate mother as a person capable of making her own decision based on free will. Surrogacy is seen as a reproductive choice and possibility to obtain an income that may give this woman freedom from domestic labour and taking care of the household. It’s a woman’s individual choice on how to use her body and bodily organs. According to liberals, surrogacy should be permitted.

On the contrary, radical feminists are for the complete prohibition of surrogacy. They see surrogacy as very similar to prostitution when access to female bodies’ usage is granted in exchange for money. Surrogate mothers make use of their wombs and their reproductive labour for commercial returns. Such as is surrogacy by nature coercive and exploitative and it’s a result of the economic necessity of surrogate mothers. Surrogacy and prostitution reduct women on the objects (women = womb, eggs, fallopian tubes…) and equate women with the sex and sexual organs. Surrogates are seen as baby producing machines and human incubators. 

Marxist feminists see a surrogate as any other worker, who’s duties are based on contract. Surrogating is seen as the bodily reproductive service offered by the surrogate mother and based on a work contract with the final product (baby). Surrogacy might be permitted as any other wage contracted labour. 

Postmodern feminists see a surrogate as a woman who makes a free choice on how many children, at what time and under what circumstances she wants. They are pro legalisation of surrogacy because it enlarges the opportunity of motherhood to infertile women and enriches our perceptions of motherhood. Surrogacy is accepted as a new form of motherhood. 

So much from the feminists theories. Now something more: like a life story.

The intended couple from the UK went to Ukraine to find a potential surrogate mother. A man donated sperm, the egg was donated by an anonymous donor and the surrogate mother had no genetic connection to a baby. Still from the UK law perspective, she was a mother of a child, because she had birth to him/her. From the perspective of Ukraine, the intended couple were parents of a child. The child was born in Ukraine, but what citizenship did she/he have? Which state is obliged to provide the child with a passport? And how to make intended parents also officially recognized as guardians of a child? A man donated sperm – so sooner or later he will be recognized as the biological parent, but what about his wife or husband? The egg was not hers and she wasn’t pregnant, he didn’t donate sperm…

Can you see my point? To have a certain feminist’s arguments is sometimes not enough. In such cases, we have to dig deeper and try to see the whole picture. Just because of the legislative mess, should surrogacy be prohibited? I don’t think so. Surrogacy was, is and will be happening regardless of the legal framework. By the law we can try to guarantee surrogate mother’s rights in larger content and also try to secure the child’s best interests. 

Our team’s work continues. We still have 10 days to go and observe surrogacy from other perspectives. From the perspective of relevant legislations, child protection, re-framing our understanding of family, colonisations of women in disadvantaged socio-ekonomical background and much more. 

We are also thankful for the wonderful discussion with Anna Moring from Monimuotoiset perheet network. It is always great to speak with somebody who is already an expert on the topic. 

It’s not even a week from the beginning of the hackathon and I have already learnt so much. I actually started to think that we all should regularly attend some hackathons. Mostly those who have a feeling they know everything 🙂

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